8 sneaky-fast cars that won't punish you at the pump
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Ford Focus SE Hatchback
0 to 60: 7.4 seconds
EPA estimated fuel economy (city/highway): 26/36
The chassis of the latest Focus is fantastic, and it's remarkable that Ford is able to repurpose this platform for so many other vehicles. The car is solid on highway hauls, forgiving over massacred pavement, yet capable in corners. The steering, too, is sharp without being high-strung. But you'd better vote manual gearbox or you'll be missing out on half the party.
The Focus is a great little speedster that is the opposite of a Golf (especially a GTI): Cops don't see a Focus and think "tuner," and that's exactly why it belongs here.
Hyundai Elantra GT
0 to 60: 8.3 seconds
EPA estimated fuel economy (city/highway): 26/37
We hear all the time that Americans don't buy hatchbacks. Wrong. Every crossover in America is a hatchback in diguise (especially now that so many of them are sinking back to carlike ride heights), so hatchbacks rule the road. Part of the reason we love these cars is that a carmaker can squeeze more utility out of a smaller vehicle by adding a fifth door. This is why the Elantra GT is appealing. It's a compact sedan with extraordinary utility, plus 51 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats folded (the latest lot of small crossovers coming along don't do much better). The Hyundai boasts excellent fuel economy too.
The Elantra may not beat its competitors to 60 mph, but unlike a lot of midsize and compact sedans, it will stand up to a reduced-radius on-ramp at 70 mph with minimal lean and highly predictable steering. For more grip, ditch the all-seasons in favor of summer performance tires.
Hyundai and Kia designs are growing exceedingly easy on the eye, prompting people to react to cars like the Elantra GT with, "but that doesn't look like a Hyundai." That lingering bias against the brand could be your friend, allowing you to drive on by while a car with more prestige gets pulled over.